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Five Surprising Facts About ‘House Hunters’

I’m sure you’ve watched House Hunters – or one of those other real estate shows – and wondered what really goes on. How can those couples afford such massive budgets? How many people in the real world are that specific about what they want? What about those epic days of riding around with a real estate agent?

The truth is that the production of these shows is a lot different from the finished product. What you see on screen is far from reality. Reddit user Kirstin Stone, who lives in the Memphis area, pulled back the curtain in a recent reddit AMA session. Based on what Stone had to share, here are five surprising things about House Hunters.

5. The producers inflate the budgets

We’ve all seen the memes and Twitter jokes:

Husband: I’m a freelance hamster trainer.

Wife: And I tune harmonicas part-time.

Husband: Our budget is $950,000.

You can’t help but wonder how people can afford such a lavish housing budget. Let’s face it: part of the reason for the high budgets is that housing is much more expensive in some of the places the show films than people in the rest of the country can fathom (I see you, California). But it’s also because the producers inflate the budgets. Stone revealed how they took the budget she came up with and added nearly $50,000 to it:

They mostly made up my budget: I wanted to spend no more than 130k, they used my max qualification (165), and tacked on 15k I had in savings as “renovation budget.”

But even a jaded former participant like Stone has seen budgets that blow her mind in her hometown:

I’m in the Memphis area, and they just shot one here with an 800k budget. No one needs 800k to buy here. Not even for obscenely nice houses.

What we wind up seeing is the result of a little television magic: take a reasonable budget, fudge the numbers a bit for drama, and voila – a House Hunters budget!

4. The clients come across as demanding and unlikable for a reason

Not only do the budgets seem unreasonable to the typical viewer, but the clients themselves often seem overly demanding or specific as well. The reason for that is that the producers prep clients by giving them lists of architectural styles and prompting them to cater their requests around certain styles. Stone said:

They give you a document with descriptions and photos of styles, so you can be "strongly opinionated" about them. In my case, my friend wanted me to have a craftsman (good luck in West Tennessee/North Mississippi), and I wanted a brick farmhouse.

The prompting from the director provides quite a bit of red meat for the confessional shots, and as a result, clients can appear to have stronger opinions than they really possess. Stone revealed:

The director stands next to the camera, and they’ll ask you the same thing three ways, to get options for editing. “How do you like the flooring?” “Tell me about how much you hate carpet.” “Is carpeting a deal breaker?” It’s all set up to look unprompted, down to the fact the fact that if you answer TO the director (rather than the camera lens), they’ll cut and start over. No one’s really that opinionated, but they can make it seem that way.

And don’t forget what editing can do to make even the most agreeable person look like a jerk. In fact, that happened to Stone’s best friend, who accompanied her on her house hunt:

On my show, my best friend was with me. Twitter HATES her, with a vengeance. Basically, they took a comment she made (she said she didn’t want me to be out in the country, where the “woods people” could get me), and they would ask her if this other house would “not have her worried about the woods people?” Then when they edited it down 5 10-hour Days of filming into 22 minutes, basically all she talked about was “woods people.”

What we wind up seeing on television is how the selective editing of hours and hours of footage into a half-hour show can make clients appear to be demanding, opinionated, and unlikable. That can take a toll on how we view the folks who are looking at these houses.

3. What looks like a long day of house hunting is actually several days of work

The real estate shows take great pains to make viewers think that the house hunts take place in a single day – from compressing the search into a half-hour program to making clients and realtors wear the same clothes the whole time. But Stone reveals that her experience on House Hunters involved taking five days off work – and then some.

Here’s how the schedule went, according to Stone’s recollection:

I'm trying to remember exactly what the days were.... I THINK it was....

  1. apartment, city shots, b-roll

  2. drag strip [Stone is a drag racer. -CQ]

  3. house 1/2"Moving In" Break

  4. House 3, "Lunch" with friends b-roll

  5. Follow up (this was actually a shorter day, maybe 6 hours)

On top of the days of filming and travel, the “follow-up” that the show hints is several weeks or months later was actually a week and a half later, so Stone had to paint her new home quickly to make it look “lived in.”

I suppose it’s all in a day’s television magic to make a whole work week of filming look like it took place in a day.

2. The clients have already chosen their house before the “search” begins

HGTV bills House Hunters as a search for the perfect home – as do any number of other series on other networks. But one of the biggest secrets of the genre is that clients must have already bought (or are in the process of buying) their chosen home before appearing on the show(s).

Stone stated that much in her AMA:

You have to be closing on a house (or already closed) to get cast. I was supposed to have a month of overlap between my apartment lease and when I bought. I was excited to have a month to paint and do flooring, but then I agreed to "not touch" the house and leave it empty.

In another Reddit session, a homeowner revealed that his home for sale appeared as an option on HGTV and told his story:

Our realtor got a call from the show’s producer and basically said they wanted to film our house as one of the three featured properties. They were a bit hesitant to admit it but it was clear that a local family had already purchased a home here and applied to be on the show and were picked so our house and another similarly appointed home were selected to go on the show as the other houses. We were first contacted about a month before filming and signed a "location" contract and stuff giving them permission to film and making it clear that they own the video and stuff and that we can't talk about it until after filming. They gave us a $50 gift card for the trouble.

It’s downright deceptive that what so many people think are reality shows are fake all the way down to their premise, but these shows are popular, so what are you going to do?

1. The participants don’t receive much compensation for all their trouble

Anybody who is starstruck at the idea of being on television probably imagines that there is a ton of money involved in it. That adage just doesn’t ring true except for big stars, and it certainly isn’t the case on House Hunters.

Stone even admitted that she may have gone in the hole for her appearance:

There's a $500 1099 payment. And you miss 5 days of work, so basically it cost me money to be on the show.

What’s even more interesting is that the real estate agents don’t receive any money at all from the show, as Stone said:

Also of note: the realtors are the unsung heroes of this show. They spend a LOT of time finding the right houses for production, and they are not compensated.

Of course, the realtors gain the benefit of exposure, and Stone acknowledged that fact:

I THINK it’s probably pitched as “great marketing.” And there was a lot of chatter amongst my realtor’s agent friends. I think it’s a combination of bragging rights and hope for it to be a long term win for business.

Add to all these the fact that the production companies use small crews for the shows, and it’s clear that these series are a cheap, easy product for the networks.

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What's most surprising to you from this peek behind the curtain? Let us know in the comments section below.